Author Archives: Bill Meehan

Bill Meehan
Bill Meehan, P.E., heads the worldwide utility industry solutions practice for Esri. Author of Enhancing Electric Utility Performance with GIS, Modeling Electric Distribution Performance with GIS, Empowering Electric and Gas Utilities, Power System Analysis by Digital Computer, and numerous papers and articles, Bill has lectured extensively and taught courses at Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts. Bill is a registered professional engineer. Follow Bill on Twitter.

Recent Posts

Mobile GIS? Never Heard Of It!

Many Workflows are Best Served with Targeted Apps

I get this said to me all the time:  “We have this big GIS in the office. We use it all the time to make maps and export data into our outage systems or gas leak management system. It’s great! Can we put it into the field for the mobile workers?”

People want mobile GIS.  But I respond like a psychiatrist when they ask for it: Instead of giving them a straight answer, I ask them a question: “To do what?”

Their answers span a big gamut. They range from, “It’s easier to get maps on a mobile device than to carry around paper maps,” to…

Continue reading

Posted in Industry Focus | 2 Comments

From NIMBY to NOPE: Overcoming the Location Dilemma

There’s an old saying: Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.

Everyone wants low cost, environmentally friendly energy. But people don’t want to look at transmission towers, pumping stations, power plants, substations, and wind farms. More than that, they don’t want any of these things located anywhere near them. We used to call this situation NIMBY or Not In My Backyard. Today we have gone from NIMBY to NOPE (Not On Planet Earth).

Transportation organizations have the same problem as utility companies. Everyone complains about traffic jams, lack of public transportation, not enough flights, lack of access to ports, and emissions from freight trains. Yet when a project comes along to provide relief, there is an outcry of opposition.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Ancient Rituals and Modern Technology

The electric and gas utility business is complex. Some say the electric grid is the most sophisticated technology in the world. Natural gas networks are not far behind. Diving deep in to the business, there is probably one of nearly every kind of technological wonder at play. Control systems, artificial intelligence, Lidar, sensor networks, augmented reality, and of course GIS. Utilities, to some extent like the space industry, drive innovation of technology. Yet overlaid with all this sparkling technology are some old patterns of behavior.

Every industry strives to improve. Utilities can improve by getting rid of old habits.

Two old behaviors linger: working in silos, and heavy reliance on institutional knowledge. Continue reading

Posted in Industry Focus | Leave a comment

Electric Utilities Need Answers

GIS Responds to the Tough Questions

Electric utilities face a new world–one in which the infrastructure is aging along with the workers. The price of everything keeps going up. Customers want better and faster service, but some of them cannot pay their bills. Natural disasters seem to get nastier each year. Governments continue to dole out more and more regulations. The community wants better service, lower emissions, and fewer mishaps. It’s a political nightmare to raise rates. Plus, the new smart grid devices are smothering utility operators with data.

In short: utilities cannot continue to operate as they have been. Utilities need a better way to do business. GIS can help. Continue reading

Posted in Industry Focus | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sharing Information to Support Smart Grid

I recently co-presented a session on GIS and the Smart Grid to a group of about 150 folks from the gas and electric utilities and the telecommunications businesses. We thought it might be interesting to have the groups come together since as more and more utilities implement Smart Grid (electric and gas), there will become greater interdependencies on one another. We further thought that this session would be a great opportunity for each company to tell us their current practices on sharing data, problems and issues. The premise was, of course, that since ArcGIS is a platform which facilitates sharing of information, that both groups could give us feedback on how best to facilitate collaboration. Much to our surprise, the groups do not have much collaboration at all. In fact, they hadn’t really considered it very seriously. When I probed them further, I asked, well how do you share information with each other? One utility guy, perhaps, half-jokingly said that he bought his friend from the phone company a beer and that’s when they shared information.

The biggest take away from this session was this: the discussion on this topic hasn’t really started. It should. Continue reading

Posted in Industry Focus | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s the Cost of a Power Failure?

Measuring the impact on customers

This year, New England had one of its worst late season storms in recent history. Heavy snow brought down trees, which in turn, brought down many power lines. Some people were out of power for more than a week. In March, a fire in a substation shut off power to the historic Back Bay section of Boston for several days. The blackout left hotels, office buildings, and subway stations dark and shuttered some of the most exclusive shops in the city. Continue reading

Posted in Industry Focus | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Spatial Analysis Helps Utilities Manage Risk

Creating a better risk model

When dealing with the complex infrastructure of an electric, gas or water utility system, things often go wrong. Things go wrong because there are so many factors that can contribute to a problem. Utility operators face an enormous task. They must gather accurate and timely data, understand the relative importance of each factor, and determine relative risk of damage to the system. Once utility risk is understood, a rational mitigation and investment strategy can be developed. Most utilities are able to prioritize maintenance and replacement projects based on factors such as equipment age, and the history of maintenance, operation, and failure. Continue reading

Posted in Industry Focus | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Building a Knowledge Infrastructure for Utilities

Preserving institutional knowledge

When I ran an electric utility operations division, one of my favorite employees was a guy named Stanley. Stanley started as a line worker; climbed poles; became a foreman, later a supervisor; then managed all the crews in the region. I remember how Stanley worked. Continue reading

Posted in Industry Focus | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Smart Grid Solves Many Problems, Introduces Others

GIS can help you answer tough smart grid questions

Smart grid is about four things:

  • Smart meters—Smart grid gives us more information about the energy we use. Smart meters will help us use less energy. Consequently, we will save money and reduce our carbon footprints.
  • Better electric reliability—Our electric infrastructure is old and fallible. Smart grid includes smart sensors to help utilities locate problems and help the electric utility grid heal itself.
  • Making green energy work—Solar and wind power are quite different from the traditional sources of electricity such as hydro, coal, natural gas, and nuclear. Like the weather, green resources are unpredictable. Smart grid will work to regulate the ebb and flow of renewable energy.
  • Smart grid phone home—By tapping telecommunication networks, smart grid will alert utilities to problems before they even happen. Continue reading
Posted in Industry Focus | Tagged , , | 19 Comments